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InfobITS logo, volume 7, number 2, winter 2001.

 

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Make Your Web Page "Findable"
by Ward Takamiya

When Web pages or sites are created and posted on the World Wide Web, it is often assumed that the pages will be easily found by those using search engines. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. With the millions of Web pages and documents in the world, or tens of thousands at a given site, it is often difficult for a visitor to find a specific piece of information. It is worse if the visitor isn't sure what to search for or how to search for it, or if the search engine itself doesn't do a good job with your document. You may not be able to change people's habits when it comes to performing a keyword search, but with a few tips you can greatly increase the search quality of your document within UHINFO's search engine or within other major ones such as Google, Yahoo! or Alta Vista.

What's a Search Engine?

A search engine is a complex computer system that visits one or more different Web sites using a software program called a spider (or sometimes robot, or crawler). These spiders systematically visit pages at different Web sites by following all the links. Each page is analyzed and the results are indexed and stored in a large database. The exact algorithms written by the programmers and used in the search engines are closely guarded secrets, but in general the search engine essentially looks at each document and attempts to break it down into individual words and assigns weight factors to the words and phrases. It's this weight factor that helps to return appropriate results.

To find an appropriate document, a visitor would use the search tool on a Web page. The visitor can enter one or more keywords or phrases to query the search engine's database. A comparison is made in an attempt to find the most relevant documents that pertain to the keyword. A page of results is returned with a number of matches listed. The documents with the strongest match appear at the top of the list. Document titles and brief descriptions from the first few lines of the Web page are included in the list. Each document in the list has a link to the actual Web site so by selecting the link, the visitor can view the entire document. (See sample below.)

How Can I Increase my Document's Ranking?

People may have said to you that they have trouble locating your page using a search engine. Maybe a keyword search indeed shows your site -- but on the fourth page of results. What can you do to get it higher in the list? Maybe even on the first page? With a basic understanding of how a typical search engine works and a few tips listed below, you can tailor your documents or Web site to make them more "findable" by your visitors.

Unfortunately, one thing you cannot change is what keywords someone will use to search for your document. You will need to hope that a visitor looking for your site will enter an appropriate keyword or keywords that are relevant to your page. Without good keywords, it is difficult for any search engine to return relevant results. However, here are some things that you may be able to change:

Body Text

The body of your document probably already contains enough of the common keywords someone might enter in a search. For example, a document or Web site about the Adventures in Astronomy is likely to have a number of occurrences of the word "astronomy" in the body text itself. The trick is to have a good introductory paragraph that mentions the common terms or keywords people associate with the subject. You get points for mentioning the keywords more than once. Be careful, however, since if you mention a word too many times, the search engine might consider that "spamming" and start subtracting points. The search engine will also give more relevance to those terms that are closer to the top of the document. It assumes that the farther down a term is found in a document, the less important it is. If you cannot change the body text of the document itself, you can try some of the other tricks.

Document Title

The title of your document is an effective way for the search engine (and your readers) to know about its subject. For example, in the same way you might try to guess what a story is about by just reading its title, to a certain extent so does the search engine. Therefore, always include a title for your document and try to choose one that is relevant to the subject, if possible.

META Tags

Because not every visitor will think of the same keywords and you may not always be able to change the body text or title, it helps to add words that may be synonymous or related to the topic. Many times, a search may fail because the visitor doesn't know the correct terminology or specifies a keyword that you haven't used in the text. For example, the visitor who searches for "astronomy" might get to the Adventures in Astronomy page, but the one who searches for "space" may not. In a case like this, the addition of a <META> tag can help by providing additional keywords for the search engine to consider. This tag is part of the HTML document (placed within the <HEAD> tags), but it is not seen in the browser. Here is an example of its use.

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="space,astronomy,comets,mauna kea">
<TITLE>Adventures in Astronomy</TITLE>
</HEAD>

The keywords are a list of relevant words or phrases, separated by commas. In our example above, the word "space" is now added as a keyword, and a visitor's search using that word may bring up this document as a match. You could also add special keywords in cases where people might frequently misspell a term, or use incorrect terminology (e.g., is it "registration," "enrollment," or "admission"?)

Acrobat PDF Files

Titles and keywords can also be added for Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) files. With Acrobat (not the Acrobat Reader) you can open the file, select File -> Document Info -> General... and enter keywords into the appropriate field. There is also a field where you can add a document title which, like the HTML version, will appear on the results page. Re-save the file and upload it again to your Web site.

Happy Hunting!

A visitor's attempt to find your page shouldn't be frustrating or futile. By taking a few thoughtful steps, you can make the journey a pleasant one.


Notes:

Before you can see the results of your changes, the search engine will need to revisit and reanalyze your page. This may take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the search engine. UHINFO uses a search engine called Ultraseek Server to search through the hawaii.edu Web pages. How often the Ultraseek spider visits a particular document depends on how often the data changes. If your document appears to change every day, the spider may schedule itself to revisit every day or so; if it doesn't seem to change very much, the spider might check back a month from now.

"Personal Home Pages" on www2.hawaii.edu are not visited by the UHINFO search engine.

An additional tag can be used to put in your own description of the page instead of using the first few lines from the document. For example,

<META NAME="description" CONTENT="The definitive guide to the stars. Adventures in Astronomy aids in the understanding of the universe.">

If your departmental page is not in the UHINFO search engine at all, it may for some reason not be in the database. Please write to webhead@hawaii.edu for assistance.

These and a few more tips may be found to make your Web page "findable" by the UHINFO search engine.

 

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